Cooperative Extension has long history of helping Alaskans

Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2005


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  Participants in a 4H horse camp head to the beach in Ninilchik for a lesson several summers ago. The Cooperative Extension Service manages 4H as a youth development program. Clarion file photo by M. Scott M

A photo from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service shows a group of women participating in a canning project with Lydia Fohn-Hansen, center, the service's first home economist.

Submitted photo

Nancy Veal knows that children love chasing roosters around a building. She has seen it with her own eyes.

One time, Veal, 4-H and youth development agent for the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, was with kids at Kenai Peninsula College giving 4-H presentations. One boy had a rooster for his demonstration, she said. The rooster broke free, resulting in a free-for-all chase around the building to catch it.

"Of course, the kids thought that was great sport," Veal said.

Colleen Sonnevil, nutrition educator for the Extension Service, remembers encountering five young women with children who were isolated in their homes without many friends. During an Extension program two years ago, the five women met and started a lasting friendship, she said. Sonnevil said this community can be a difficult one to make friends.

Vicki Heinz, administrative assistant at the Extension office, said senior citizens often will drop by the office to chat and share information.

"It's just a real neat feeling how many senior citizens come in to do that," Heinz said.

These are just a few fond memories of the storied history of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service on the Kenai Peninsula.

This year, the Extension Service is celebrating its 75th anniversary of educating and helping the community learn how to better live their life #&151; young, old and everything in between.


Abigail Daniels feeds pigs at the Ninilchik State Fair in 2004. She raised the animals as a 4-H livestock project.

Clarion file photo

To celebrate, there will be an anniversary reception Wednesday from 2 to 8 p.m. at the Extension Service office, 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, next to Doors and Windows. The reception is open to the public.

There will be live music and fresh-baked cookies #&151; made by people who really know how to make cookies.

UAF Chancellor Steve Jones and Extension Service Director Tony Nakazawa will hand out award certificates to "friends of the extension." There will be an illustrated time line and other information for those interested in its history in Alaska.

Celebration participants will not be able to escape without having a crack at some door prizes. Master gardener manuals, Alaska berry books and 4-H sweatshirts are only a few of the prizes on hand.

The Extension is the outreach arm of UAF. Its mission: Take the university to the people by teaching practical skills and techniques to the public.

"The Extension Service is all about helping people where they are in life," said Linda Tannehill, home economist and 4-H youth development agent for the Extension Service.


Tom Jahns, center, teaches a pesticide applications class at the Cooperative Extension Service's office earlier this month. Workers there strive to make useful information available to the public.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Janice Chumley, program aid for land resources #&151; also known as the "bug lady" #&151; said the Extension offers people reasonable options to help address everyday concerns. She said she enjoys talking to people about their questions and helping them find answers.

Tannehill said Alaskans spend a lot of time gathering, fishing, hunting and preparing food, and the Extension helps them learn proper ways to deal with that.

There are three components to the extension: 4-H is aimed at youth development; the land resources arm focuses on agriculture, horticulture and gardening; and home economics focuses on budgeting, proper eating and food preparation and preservation.

Tom Jahns, land resources district agent and an 11-year employee for the Extension Service, said dealing with people is what makes it great.

"We have exceptional clientele on the peninsula," he said.

Jahns said he particularly enjoys working with retired gardeners who have years of experience in the hobby. They are still learning and are happy to be alive, he said.

"They're the happiest people on Earth," he said.


Participants in a 4H horse camp head to the beach in Ninilchik for a lesson several summers ago. The Cooperative Extension Service manages 4H as a youth development program.

Clarion file photo by M. Scott M

The Extension Service started in Alaska with an Iowa farm girl looking for an adventure.

According to an article on the Extension Service's Web site, Lydia Jacobson, who was teaching home economics education at Iowa State University, applied for a position at the newly-formed Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, which later became the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The article said Jacobson, along with her friend Martha Parker, who also received a job at the college, took a road trip to Seattle.

Anticipating wild country with little roads, Jacobson sold her car and took a ship to Seward. A train from Seward brought the two girls to Fairbanks, where they found home at the Nordale Hotel for $40 per month, according to the article.

The article said Lydia then married and became Mrs. Fohn-Hansen. Shortly after, she resigned her position and moved to Seattle with her husband.

Two years later they moved back to Alaska, and she was named home economist for the new Cooperative Extension Service, according to the article.

The Extension Service has become a part of Alaska's history since those first days Fohn-Hansen took the reigns. It also has become a part of Rieta Walker's history.

Walker, a Homer resident, became involved in Family and Community Education in 1964. FCE is affiliated with the extension. In the 1970s, she started working as a receptionist at the Extension Service office, retiring in 1997.

"I really loved my job," she said. "I enjoyed meeting the people that came in."

The Extension and Walker have evolved since 1964.

For example, much of the public's correspondence was done by mail, she said.


Janice Chumley collects non-indigenous weeds for a presentation a couple years ago. Agriculture, horticulture and gardening comprise one of the Cooperative Extension Service's three areas of emphasis.

Clarion file photo by Phil Herma

And the way the extension newsletter was created evolved, as well, she said.

Printing out the newsletter was a part of her job. Walker said she had to put the newsletter on a stencil and put the stencil on a mimeograph. A mimeograph is a machine that has a drum that rotates and feeds the paper through.

"It was really messy," she said.

As the mimeograph became outdated, Walker said she had to study computer manuals to learn how to make the newsletter on a computer.

While her memories are too numerous to name, she remembers helping to prepare for a workshop on beekeeping. She was tasked with picking the bees up at the airport.

"It was just kind of fun to think I'm going to the airport to pick up bees," she said.

However, there also was the lingering memory of a story she had recently heard. Apparently, Walker said, somebody had shipped a box of bees and it broke at the post office. She could not stop thinking about that story as she drove to the airport. She made sure the box did not break.

But memories are not the only thing left of her experience with the Extension Service #&151; and retirement has not kept her idle. Walker continues to participate in FCE events. A lot of her friends are members of the organization, she said.

"Extension has something to offer in most areas of my life," she said.

For more information on the Extension Service, call 262-5824.

The article on Lydia Fohn-Hansen can be found on the Web at nomics. Click on the mission/ history button.

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